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Series Preview: Tigers open up 2023 campaign on road vs Tampa Bay Rays

The Detroit Tigers will open up the season in Tampa Bay against the Rays on Thursday in a three-game series.

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Detroit Tigers v. Seattle Mariners Photo by Rob Leiter/MLB Photos via Getty Images

Major League Baseball is back Tigers fans!

With spring training now in the rearview mirror it is time to turn our attention to the 2023 MLB regular season, which has the Detroit Tigers facing the Tampa Bay Rays on the road to open up the schedule. While hope always springs eternal ahead of the first game, A.J. Hinch’s team has a tough task ahead of them early on in what will be Miguel Cabrera’s farewell retirement tour.

The Motor City Kitties play their first two series on the road, in fact, and things do not get easier with the Houston Astros up next before opening up at home against the Boston Red Sox. But first things first as the Tigers and Rays tangle in Tampa Bay this weekend starting on Thursday, with a day off before the remainder of the series. Here is what we know so far heading into the return of big league baseball. Note that all stats and records are from the 2022 season.

Detroit Tigers (66-96) at Tampa Bay Rays (86-76)

Times (EDT): Thursday: 3:10 p.m.; Saturday: 4:10 p.m.; Sunday 1:10 p.m.
Place: Tropicana Field, St. Petersburg, Florida
SB Nation Site: DRays Bay
Media: Bally Sports Detroit, MLB.TV, Tigers Radio Network

Game 1 Pitching Matchup

Player IP K% BB% FIP fWAR
Player IP K% BB% FIP fWAR
Rodriguez 91.0 23.2 7.8 4.43 0.6
McClanahan 166.1 30.3 5.9 3.00 3.5

Game 1: LHP Eduardo Rodriguez (5-5, 4.05 ERA) vs. LHP Shane McClanahan (12-8, 2.54 ERA)

Eduardo Rodriguez gets the opening-day nod for the second-straight season in a Tigers uniform, essentially due to seniority and the fact that some of the other starters are still getting their mojo back. The 29-year-old, who was signed as a free agent during the previous offseason, disappeared for a long spell last summer taking a leave of absence starting in mid-May and returning to start September. However, the southpaw was not much better — or worse — than when he started the campaign.

The veteran out of Venezuela got by on a five-pitch arsenal last season headlined by his four-seam fastball (91.7 mph) that saw 35.7% usage, followed by his cutter (88.7 mph) at 24.5%, sinker (91.7 mph) at 19.6%, changeup (85.5 mph) at 16.2% and slider (82.7 mph) at 4.0%. Take a look below at how his performance stacked up in comparison to his peers.

Baseball Savant

Shane McClanahan is a third-year hurler who was drafted out of the University of South Florida by the Rays in the first round of the 2018 MLB draft who has not disappointed at the big league level. The 25-year-old finished seventh in the Rookie of the Year vote in 2021 and sixth in the American League Cy Young vote — along with an all-star nod — during his sophomore season. While many of his numbers stand out, his sub-1.00 WHIP (0.93) was something to behold.

The third-year left-hander tamed his opponents in 2022 using a four-pitch arsenal that consists of a four-seam fastball (96.7 mph), changeup (87.7 mph), curveball (82.0 mph) and slider (89.3 mph) which he employs 35.7%, 25.4%, 23.4% and 15.5% of the time, respectively. Take a look below at how it all adds up.

Baseball Savant

Game 2 Pitching Matchup

Player IP K% BB% FIP fWAR
Player IP K% BB% FIP fWAR
Turnbull - - - - -
Eflin 75.2 20.8 4.8 3.56 1.4

Game 2: RHP Spencer Turnbull (NR) vs. RHP Zach Eflin (3-5, 4.04 ERA)

Spencer Turnbull missed the entire 2022 season due to Tommy John surgery. Most notably, the 30-year-old out of Alabama tossed a no-hitter back on May 18, 2021, against the Seattle Mariners on the road. Unfortunately, the remainder of his campaign was ultimately cut short due to injury.

Zach Eflin gets the Game 2 nod to kick off his eighth major league season. The 28-year-old was originally selected by the San Diego Padres in the first round (No. 33 overall) of the 2012 MLB draft but was traded to the Los Angeles Dodgers and then the Philadelphia Phillies in a two-day December whirlwind of trades. He then spent the next seven years with Philly, putting up a 36-45 record with a 4.49 ERA, 4.36 FIP and 1.30 WHIP in 659 13 innings over that stretch.

Last season, Eflin brought a six-pitch arsenal to the table, led off by his sinker (92.7 mph) which he used 39.9% of the time, curveball (78.3 mph) at 20.1%, four-seam fastball (93.1 mph) at 15.5%, cutter (90.0 mph) at 14.8%, changeup (87.0 mph) at 6.1% and slider (85.6 mph) at 3.6%. Here is how he compares to his peers according to Baseball Savant’s MLB percentile rankings.

Baseball Savant

Fun fact: Eflin and Riley Greene both graduated from the same high school — Paul J. Hagerty in Oviedo, Florida.

Game 3 Pitching Matchup

Player IP K% BB% FIP fWAR
Player IP K% BB% FIP fWAR
Wentz 32.2 20.0 9.6 3.54 0.5
Springs 135.1 26.2 5.6 3.04 3.0

Game 3: LHP Joey Wentz (2-2, 3.03 ERA) vs. TBD

Joey Wentz was a first-round pick (No. 40 overall) by the Atlanta Braves in the 2016 MLB draft out of Shawnee Mission East High School in Lawrence, Kansas, before heading to the Motor City in a trade along with Travis Demeritte in exchange for Shane Greene. In the 25-year-old’s first season wearing the Olde English D, he held his own in limited action starting in all nine of his appearances in 2022.

The second-year hurler got by during his debut campaign with a four-pitch arsenal consisting of a four-seam fastball (92.4 mph), cutter (83.4 mph), changeup (84.1 mph) and curve (75.4 mph) which he threw 55.2%, 21.8%, 13.5% and 9.4% of the time, respectively. Here is how his performance compared to the rest of the league.

Baseball Savant

Series Outlook: Tigers tested early to open the season

Opening up the schedule on the road against the Rays is not exactly how one would like to see their team start the season, but at the same time, at least we will get a good idea of what this team has to offer early on against tough competition. The Game 1 matchup on the mound strongly suggests that Tampa Bay will take the opener, but anything can happen in the other two games.